Twitter threads – Scattered thoughts on 2020

Most of efforts this year have been on twitter – which is to say I have been lazier in refusing to put the time and effort into properly researching, structuring, and presenting an argument in long form. Where I have taken the trouble to attempt such in twitter form – as a thread – they will be recorded for posterity below. This is less a comment on their quality, and more to do with the fact that I periodically blitz my twitter postings.

Thank god we’re nearly done with this year:

In response to @jedpc Replying to @MugfordSimon (Oct 21st) – “Not to mention BMT Venari 85 are quiet by design for MCM, so you could use one with containerised Thales CAPTOR towed array for ASW survaillance – think Bomber departures and Russian tampering with undersea cables….. much cheaper than a T26, jus sayin….”

And designed for in-channel maneuvering, so your expensive frigate doesn’t drift onto a mine from the current. Oops, shame we squeezed that possibility by buying lots of RiverB2’s at the low end, and lots of T31 in the ‘midrange’. An 95m Venari with a bofors 40mm (without the offboard systems) could do most things that a B2 or T31 will be used for. and MCM! #britishprocurement Seriously, i would sell both classes off after five years in service, bring T26 up to ten units, and buy 16 Venari – with eight MCM kits. 16x high end escorts, 16x (specialist) sloops. Done. My gut response would still be to buy more bare-bones 95m venari. Its the offboard systems that will cost serious dollar, not big empty OPV hulls with some extra maneuvering thrusters … Where do we want to put the T31? Not sure it is specced with a HMS atm, let alone a TAS. No Merlin either. Has a good radar and CMS, but only about 16 CAMM… So good for one volley of self defence in a hot zone. At best its a forward-deployed chokepoint gatekeeper. #boghammer And it will be very good at that role, but it only properly exists in Red Sea as a trade/access chokepoint (persian gulf will be a regional problem by mid 2030’s), but we bought five of them! And i think 95m venari with 40mm+3p and a MCM package will be more useful than 1x T31?

In response to @KeohaneDan (30th Oct) – “Do many UK friends want a change to FPTP? It seems nothing will change if that doesn’t change? Or impossible/undesirable?”

No. Fptp has its flaws, but the advantages i recognise outweighs these: I like adversarial politics as an agent of change. I like the manifesto as a benchmark that can be assessed post-facto. I like a majoritarian electoral system which elects a party that can be held accountable. This could be an ossifying process that sets into two immovable party’s – like the US – but we have a 0.5 party (in the libdems), to keep the big two responsive to public demand. Hegemons can be unseated. The other benefit is that to win a party has to appeal to the common ground – across the geographic and political spectrum. This militates against party’s that would prefer to advocate a chosen vision which is too factional or niche to command majority support. Thatcher won by appealing beyond tory land to the working class in southern england. Blair won by appealing beyond the labour heartlands to the middle class. These but two examples. It is not a mechanism of majoritarian government, no, but it is more likely to elect a majority govt. Not unique, no, but in sum a satisfactory balance… That is the same thing as recognising that PR just brings its own problems – that unicorns dont emerge from PR growbags – and that electoral systems are tradeoffs you must weigh against your priorities. I did say .across the geographic and political spectrum. it is both parts, as a function of being a common ground party, unable to adopt positions that are so sectional they would destroy support on the other side, and thus prevent victory. As in – to adopt a position that suits a niche demographic that would to too wide a part of the electorate be an alien and unacceptable notion. Like torys or labour ceasing to be unionist parties to chase a seperatist demographic in scotland. Yes, true, but i’m a unionist in the very broadest sense – expecting that all gov’ts should govern in the interest of all of the nation, so i don’t want parties that aspire to govt to hold niche views that would be unacceptable to such a degree. So like a system to knacker niches. No, the only acceptable parameter is: “the union is a good thing, we support the strenghtening and betterment of all constituent nations within tye union!” … At the same time as providing legal mechanisms for nations to leave the union, which we do. No, i am happy for the system to be responsive to public demand, and the system can and does respond to the desire for devolution of power bespoke to their requirements . And yet does not have the other properties I value in an electoral system. Again – i’m not saying anyone is wrong in their choice, or that their choice is ‘bad’, merely taking the time to explain why FPTP suits [me] very well, with a shift to PR representing no tangible benefit. Comes to Tebbit’s differentiation between the “Common ground” and the “Centre ground”, cross-cutting but quite different concepts. I see PR achieivng centre-ground compromise positions between incompatible views, where FPTP permits radical solutions within majority tolerated ideas. I can see the argments for other systems – but I very much got the impression that a win for AV would be taken as the starting gun on a further jump to PR. FPTP has flaws. Accepted… If we moving away from a plurality system, and disregarding options within the proportional system, what does that leave? They might all be fine, but to get a real lib-dem style moistness for constitutional tinkering seems to be predicated on recognising some abiding and fundamental inequity that a new system fixes without huge drawbacks… and i don’t see it.

In response to @VALERIEin140 (Nov 16th) – “Hungary and Poland blocked the progress of the EU’s €1.8tn budget and recovery package at a crucial meeting of diplomats on Monday, stalling the centrepiece of the bloc’s economic response to the pandemic.”

You don’t have to like PIS or agree with it’s constitutional changes to recognise that the ‘rule of law’ stipulations riding on it are [why] poland vetoed the recovery package… 288 odd chars to play with, and yet no mention of why they did this. How come? The truth of this matter is that eu is watching behaviour that does not match norms deemed acceptable to a majority view. and thus it seeks to break this aberrant behaviour… And Poland in turn telling the eu that it has no place in determining the constitutional governance. What’s even funnier – is that even if the eu hadn’t been stupid enough to attach ‘rule of law’ stipulations to the recovery package, most of the loans will be rejected by intended recipients because… …they come with conditions that interfere with domestic governance! In both cases – the covid recovery package as a bill, and the application of it’s loan mechanisms – you have a problem of ambition for ever closer union butting heads with westphalian sovereignty. “who the hell do you think you are!” #verybritishproblems I believe the correct phrase to describe club-med interest in covid loans includes the word “barge pole”. To refound an old phase: for monetary union to work it needs a fiscal union, and for that to work it must be legitimised by a political union. There is “but” here: You can’t run a political union on intergovernmentism. And no one has ever got the consent of a single national electorate to move to supranational European governance! Belgium might be close, but not anyone else, and certainly not poland and hungary, or even sweden and denmark. But we can’t really talk about this problem in polite circles, can we? So better to glide past this by focusing on how poland and hungary are suspect in failing to live up to their ‘EUropean’ obligations. As i said earlier: #verybritishproblems Polish official: “This is an issue that will determine if Poland is a sovereign subject in the EU community, or it will be politically and institutionally enslaved.” Re: the similarity between Cameron’s veto in 2011 and this veto of the bugdet/bailout today:

In response to: @BBCkatyaadler (Nov 29th) – “They wouldn’t otherwise have accepted. Like UK, EU countries don’t want a deal ‘at any price’. Totally agree with eg @peterfoster the fish focus in UK is red herring. For EU the MAIN preoccupation is ‘fair competition’ ie level playing field. Let’s see what this week brings../3″

For EU the MAIN preoc is ‘fair competition’ ie level playing field.” Amusingly, this is also the principle justification for brexit, to back away from the social-democratic mindset that private enterprise needs to justify its continued existence on the basis of ‘social good’. This is arse backwards, it should be for government to justify any intervention into private activity. People often misunderstood UK in scoffing at the ‘silly notion that britain is libertarian, because look at the covid compliance’. A high trust society does not need high… 2 …regulatory interference to allow the proper functioning of society: “I’ll happy follow the rules – where they are necessary – but outside of that stay out of my way!” This being the great sorrow of ever-closer-union; as a low trust social construct the only way to make… 3 …it work is to built a vast regulatory framework to reassure all possible stakeholders that all key risk elements have been managed away. No room for risk, or discretion. Just compliance or non compliance, bringing to mind the overbearing pettifoggery of the ordinary police…4 So, when people question whether britain is still a high trust, low regulation, high compliance society… they have a point: Weve spent the last forty years implementing this high intervention social regulation, and it has done real and persistant damage to english liberalism.5 And whilevthis might all seem like a grindingly pedestrian point to a trade negotiator – whose bread and butter is using regulation to bridge low trust environments – I’d just like to question whether this is a good model for managing society. 6/end

In response to: @RIPhilo (Dec 5th) – “To have the choice of saying no to a job if the work is appalling or distressing is to be free.” @catherinerowett explores the idea of universal basic income and its philosophical implications in this lecture, available to all:

Don’t mind the idea in principle, but i don’t think it answers many of the questions its proponents worry about. Not least the desire by those people for progressive redistribution... It seems like an efficient way to administer a welfare system – less overhead. But, either it provides a useful base income but prevents distribution based on difficult edge cases… or, it sits alongside an existing array of benefits which accommodate those edge case needs, but has to be trimmed back to the point where it is a middle class subsidy – like child benefit is now… …and then you lose the administrative simplicity that makes it attractive. It just seems like universal credit answers most of the problems and provides most of the benefits.** **provided it has a decent return to gradual work claw back as IDS originally intended, but was later gutted by osborne – and then somewhat rectified by gove cicra 2016. And the final point is that proponents rarely address who qualifies for it: If you do set it at something useful like £10k/year, does an economic migrant automatically qualify? If they do, is that politically stable/saleable? If not, do you need a complicated parallel system? Thank you, it was an excellent exposition on the philosophical case in favour of a UBI. All the practical questions I have remain – perhaps very reasonably given the venue for the lecture – but as long as they are unaddressed it remains a dream. The philosophical case also rests assumptions that [may] be true, and yet are not demonstrated to be so: According to ONS every quintile of the household income spectrum loses roughly 1/3 to the exchequer – once both tax and benefits accounted for: Is income distribution unfair? You might argue that it is unfair, but it is not evident that their exists any popular will to force our governance to reflect this ‘truth’. If UK society does not accept this point, then the justification of ending shit jobs to produce useless things does not in fact pertain. In which circumstance – we must assume that the status quo does pertain – that UK society accepts (if not contentedly), that capitalism is the most useful mechanism for assigning labour to activity in order to produce the most correct quantity and quality of goods and services. Now, none of this means that UBI is inappropriate, or, that UBI is not a better way of doing things than a vastly complicated web of taxes and benefits than generates misery in its imperfect understanding and application… … just that this contention must first be justified. **A posteriori, not a priori** And to justify this argument, there must be public acceptance that this contention is the truth of how a good society should be ordered. And for that condition to pertain you must build a case for how UBI would be practically implemented. And thus, I return to my original point: “Don’t mind the idea in principle, but i don’t think it answers many of the questions its proponents worry about. Not least the desire by those people for progressive redistribution.” At what level is a UBI implemented? £12.5k/year… What does this do to other benefits? Much reduced… Is this UBI restricted to full citizens? Parallel infrastructure… I have no problem with UBI in principle, but the argument needs to be won in practice (in the ballot box).

In response to: @sylviademars (Dec 10th) – “(Those of us who think Singapore upon Thames has got to be a driver aren’t stupid, for the record. The possibility of mass deregulation is one of very few tangible results of Brexit. So if that’s not what we’re looking to do, what on earth is the point?”

People – in the abstract – misunderstand ‘Singapore on Thames’: The idea is a natural fit… relative to the environment. We don’t need to retrench back Gov’t spending to ~20% of GDP, just a gradual drift down to a UK norm of ~37.5% of GDP while soc-dem EU harmonises up to ~45%. Same argument can be made on regulation: We don’t need to get all red in tooth and claw over slashing red tape to recognise that the EU as a low-trust (composite) society uses rules and rules compliance to generate acceptance of common governance. Less precautionary principle. I think the wariness of a Tory Gov’t on LPF measures is informed by Blair casually binning the hard-fought for exemption from the Social Chapter, which was later dissolved throughout the Lisbon treaty, making any return to status-quo-ante pract impossible: “I’m not sure i understand the point about ratchet clauses not being a problem “because a future gov’t could do it anyway”, as the whole point is that it ratchets policy discretion away from the party with the most divergent view from eu norms. Without this, new gov’t wud bin it.” Ditching the Social Chapter opt-out was (in my opinion), the moment past which it became impossible in UK political discourse to ignore the political ambitions of EUrope to manage domestic social regulation as well as external trade cooperation: Happy to agree – and I’m not in anyway an absolutist here – but I can understand the jockeying to achieve a workable compromise that will prove politically stable, rather than an ongoing source of friction (and potentially future rupture). Agreed, but the aim must be to find a new relationship that is in the macro view both cordial and constructive, so perhaps i should have placed the emphasis on avoiding future rupture.

In response to: @v_j_freeman (Dec 15th) – “Is Corbyn personally a racist? Yes. If it walks like a duck & quacks like a duck, it’s a duck. No-one else with his history would be given anywhere near the benefit of the doubt by the people who defend him if he didn’t swear allegiance to socialism. He’s just a racist socialist.”

I don’t buy this line. I don’t hold with this modern definition of racism that is both nebulous and infinitely extensible. Racism means the belief that one race bears inherent characteristics that make it inferior (or superior), to others. I don’t believe this fits Corbyn. This is falling down the progressive rabbit hole which conflates all possible negative inference – such as bigotry, xenophobia, callous disregard, rudeness – with the label ‘racism’. Which is cobblers. Corbyn does appear to have a problem with Israel/israelies/zionists/jews…but: While the evidence for bigotry and/or callous disregard (in relation to his favoured in-group), seems pretty clear, I simply don’t see any evidence that this fits any useful defintion of racism: That a race bears inherent characteristics that make it inferior/superior. Now, does this make St. Jezza a nice man? Of course not, he’s definately veered into the deeply unpleasant and deserves censure for his bigotry/callous disregard to what he obviously views as the oppressor of his favoured in group. But, that does not make him racist. I say this as a right of centre person – with a visceral dislike of his politics. I say this as one who is sympathetic to israel – with a visceral dislike of his unthinking bias. Seriously, what is wrong for saying he is a disgrace for his unacceptable views? Why jump to racism! Why did i take the time to defend someone i both dislike and disdain – for views that i find reprehensible? Becuase this definition of racism is both nebulous and infinitely extensible. You’re giving credence to people most likely to misuse that latitude for ill. Don’t do it. If you’re given a definition that takes more than two short sentences to describe you are being used. Too many people/organizations have been co-opt’ed into redefining how people think. If you’re asked to endorse a tool that will be used to attack other people, refuse. Sadly, has let itself down here. Old definition ~2014: “The belief that all members of each race possess characteristics, abilities, or qualities specific to that race, especially so as to distinguish it as inferior or superior to another race or races.” New definition ~2020: “The inability or refusal to recognize the rights, needs, dignity, or value of people of particular races or geographical origins. More widely, the devaluation of various traits of character or intelligence as ‘typical’ of particular peoples…” Keep going: To carry on: “…The category of race may itself be challenged, as implying an inference from trivial superficial differences of appearance to allegedly significant underlying differences of nature;…” No, not finished yet: Nearly there: “…increasingly evolutionary evidence suggests that the dispersal of one original people into different geographical locations is a relatively recent and genetically insignificant matter.” And done! Waffley, bollocks. Mendacious, waffley bollocks. /Fin

In (indirect) reasponse to: @BO3673 (Dec 23rd) – “Bin Challenger 2 & Warrior. Buy Leopard & CV90. We need a loitering munition (again). We need at least 2 types of long range artillery. We need something between a GPMG & HVM, and something more than CAAM. Then we need some off the shelf workhorse AFVs. All talking to each other”

Jointly procure K2(Wolf) with Poland. Forward base them in Lodz. If that is an argument for a cost-effective C2 LEP to keep it going for another fifteen years until a true next-gen tank platform arrives, sure. But we’ll never build another leading-edge heavy-MBT when our total requirement is 150-225 units, so at some point we’ll buy foriegn. If we do join a joint program, we’ll be bit-part players in a Franco-German program. Which is fine, but that’s what we’ll be. With tempest, it is essential for the future of UK aerospace. With complex warships, it is a strategic industry. With 180 tanks it is a 2nd order niche. We’ll have to see just how big the requirement is post ISR, but plenty of rumours have pointed to the Army limiting the C2 LEP to 155 hulls. This may corroborate other rumours that the Army is downsizing armour post ISR to relieve budgetry pressure to make strike work. 1x sq bgd? (Heavy) land warfare has been neglected, very true. And there is no indication that gov’t is willing to consider heavy-armour a strategic industry that they will pay to preserve skills to both design and build these types. This is what has been done for subs/(c)warships/fighters. “Aye tbh it wouldn’t surprise me if they just scrapped them” This is why i suggest K2(Wolf): A new and modern tank platform procured a (relatively) low cost, to be operated from and alongside the national partner our Art5 obligations require. It’d be fine for a single sq brigade. “No really defence strategic industry plan full stop. Heavy armour would be relatively easy to do currently” Arguably, there has been with Subs and Complex Warships. There hasn’t with heavy-armour, and that makes sense when it appears only req is only for 1-2 bgd out of 6 total. “If they scrap them there isn’t going to be a replacement or other MBT investment. That’ll be the end of the tank in the BA” I disagree, we’ll just cheaply buy the variants that Poland will procure to support its 700 tank fleet req. If we can buy 180 tanks, we’ll get 60 support. If that is true then we are looking at what the ISR terms a sunset capability. I think creative ways can be found to retain armoured maneuvre warfare at an appropriate scale, because we either face this problem now, or in 15 yrs with LEP. Because next time, still just 180 tanks. I agree. I don’t believe we should lose heavy armour. And I agree, that there is a danger of this given budgetry pressure. But this should tell us something about where MoD priorities lie, and the need to present a more streamlined heavy-armour future to the Treasury.

In response to: @troop_ultra (Dec 23rd) – “Would be great if you could jump onto and have a look at the excellent initiatives going on through MPS in Malawi. Even better if you could spare a few quid and retweet. Copying in my heavy hitting Twitter friends @thinkdefence@maj_fox and @Ally_Ali18

Fun anecdote: My childhood was spent in Malawi, as my parents decided to move out there so dad could teach Malawian kids biology. Mum couldn’t work (or wear trousers), we were expected to hire help who would spy on us (Alias told us he had no choice). Magnificent years! The mission: To create a Malawian middle class. An educated professional class who could administer gov’t, provide services, create businesses. Modelled on eton, the subject of bbc and french documentaries (dad only featured in the french one). Sound terribly elitist? Oh yes! Entirely on academic merit, it took the best performing boy and girl in every district, and offered them a chance to transform their prospects… …for a price: Future service to Malawi. Gov’t would pay for Uni education abroad, but you came back! Let me reiterate: Boys and girls, based on merit. These weren’t the sons of powerful village elders, or gov’t cronies. These were village kids, whose ability to thrive in extremely limited educational environments would make the average grammar school kid weep in despair. Wasn’t old Banda a bit of a bad chap? Yes. People who disagreed with him might end up in a hessian tobacco sack on the wifes doorstep: “don’t make a fuss, or kid will never get an education” **friend of my dad** Mum had lunch with his wife, also a bit colouful. But, not minimize the probs: What he created in kamuzu akademy was truly glorious, not least because what was created was created for the benefit of Malawi (rather than his own). A great institution, that has succeeded in its ambition of making importing teachers unnecessary. Putting words in dad’s mouth here, but i think he’d happily say they were among the most rewarding years of his teaching career. And a great life for his family. Thank you, Malawi.

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